Yearly Archives: 2013

Why are the holidays so hard?

By Jack Smith

Some say the holidays are hard because we expect too much. We hope for Norman Rockwell and end up with Clark Griswold.

We cook too much. We clean too much. We shop too much. We spend too much. We drink too much, eat too much and expect too much.

Those things are probably true. But my guess is what makes the holidays hard for some of us is we carry too much weight into the season of giving. And it’s exhausting.

0a5301f66fbf9b544fd851c1da927206We carry our burdens and resentments, our hurts and disappointments that have accumulated in our hearts and minds. We carry our failures and our bitterness, our  pain and our anxiety about what the future may hold.

With the end of the year approaching, it feels like dragging an anvil across a finish line we can’t really even see.

Only dragging our hurts to the New Year doesn’t make any of those problems go away. It can even make us feel worse when Auld Lang Syne has been sung, the confetti has fallen and the last drink of the year has been consumed. Because none of those traditions solve our problems.

Holidays are hard for those who’ve lost loved ones, too. Loss is not easy on a Tuesday in February, either, but when those who were a part of our holiday portraits are suddenly wiped off the canvas, those holiday traditions we cherish are never quite the same. They even hurt for a while.

Holidays are hard for those who’ve lost a job, gotten a divorce or been diagnosed with an illness. I suspect the holidays are hard for them because peace is elusive even though they know the Prince of Peace is on His way. We know that should make us feel better. When it doesn’t, it only makes us feel worse.

Holidays are hard for recovering alcoholics because once deer season ends, cocktail season begins. We fool ourselves into thinking a glass of wine or three always made it all easier, even though it really never did.

Holidays are hard for alcoholics because nearly everything about the holidays revolves around alcohol. Those early in sobriety even feel a sense of self pity, wondering why we can’t have a drink like everybody else.

Holidays are also hard for those  of us who are utterly incapable of being the recipients of kindness, gifts or grace without feeling guilt or the need to give back in equal measure that which we receive.

John Wesley, father of Methodism, had something to say about this. “Nothing is harder for capable people at Christmas than to simply come and receive.”

This year, I’m hoping to change where I am going. As a friend told me about a sermon he heard Sunday, isn’t that what the Magi did?

It’s one of the more profound parts of the Christmas story. Manger scenes remind us they made it to the babe, but we often forget they had to change directions when they left to go home. They went home a different way, but they were forever changed.

I’m hoping to go home a different way, to leave 2013 behind me as a changed man. That would be the greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Relapse really is part of recovery

By Jack Smith

My doctor told me two things the day I left The Menninger Clinic: I may never outgrow bipolar disorder, and relapse is often part of recovery.

My first six weeks or so at home, I felt renewed and refreshed, hopeful and content.

I awoke every day at 5 am, read my Bible, made a gratitude list and enjoyed the silent comfort morning brings. I experienced something that has eluded me for much of life. Serenity.

My naive hope was that my illness was behind me. Maybe I finally had found the right combination of meds and mojo, therapy and attitude.

Yet somehow the train recently came careening off the tracks, and I couldn’t stop it. I pulled the emergency brake, but it didn’t stop. I did all the things I was told to do.

I prayed. I exercised. I mentalized. I took deep breaths. I told myself the paralyzing anxiety that triggered obsessive and ridiculous thoughts would pass, that feelings are just that. They aren’t facts.

Yet the depression came back like a slow-moving, dark cloud, consuming my soul and distorting my thoughts. The stubborn cloud hasn’t moved.

Depression is a liar. It tells me my life is unraveling. It tells me the pain and suffering might never go away. It tells me I’m not worthy of the blessings I’ve been given. Worst of all, it makes me forget how blessed I really am. This disease is cruel and cunning, relentless and unforgiving, exhausting and maddening.

It tells me it’s not even worth the fight. It tells me to fear my emotions, all my emotions, because I might launch into mania or slide down the slippery slope of misery.

Today, I used all the strength I could muster to try and climb out of this dark and dreadful abyss. My fear is slipping into the pit of agony again as I scratch and claw my way out.

As difficult and discouraging as these days have been, I have not given up hope.  I can’t give up hope because it’s all I have.

I do not believe God has forsaken me or left me alone in the bitter cold and darkness of winter. I believe he has a plan for me, a reason for my suffering. I just don’t yet know what it is.

I have asked God to take this burden away from me, but I can accept it if He doesn’t. At least then the suffering will not have been in vain.



If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday


By Jack Smith

Thanksgiving was my father’s favorite holiday. It may have been his favorite day of the year.

He would rise early, whistling with gusto and singing silly songs in the shower, while mom did all the work in the kitchen.

Dad loved Thanksgiving because it was the one day of the year he was sure to see almost all of his Smith kin, most especially his five brothers and sisters. They were an unusually close set of siblings, their relationships forged by fire with the tragic early death of their mother, who died when the youngest was just an infant, and the premature death of their father, who died when my father was in college after living for years with a broken heart, never remarrying or even dating.

Every Thanksgiving morning, after watching Big Bird, Kermit and others float through Manhattan, we’d pile up in the station wagon and motor through the Wiregrass toward Geneva, home of my namesake. Uncle Jack and his sweet wife,  my Aunt Mill, hosted all the Smiths  every year. They fried up the best hand-breaded chicken fingers you’ve ever tasted and put out salty Apalachicola bay oysters before any of us even arrived. I ate more fat oysters on Saltines, dripping with tangy cocktail sauce, than one could count. Continue reading

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

CPAP mask makes for restless nights, so far

By Jack Smith

Imagine you are dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween.  Only your mask is too small, it fogs up when you breathe,  your lips are chapped and you are claustrophobic to begin with.

Now you have to slide into bed, hook a garden hose up to your mask and try to go to sleep.

That’s how my first week with a CPAP mask has gone. It’s been a sleepless train wreck. It’s a good thing I don’t operate heavy machinery for a living. Heck, driving and typing (not at the same time) have been hard enough. Continue reading

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Manic patients aren’t mad, just different

By Jack Smith

With a presentation to 50 people a few hours away, I had more energy than a cocaine user on his highest high. Only it was 4:00 a.m. and I had not yet slept.

I felt larger than life, drinking beer after beer while listening to music in my hotel room. I was traveling alone and enjoying a party of one.

Thoughts raced through my mind as the alcohol warmed my blood. I would leave my current job and conquer the world. I would become a high-flying consultant to big companies and write a book. I would be rich and would retire at 50. I might even become famous.

I ordered room service and more booze, giving the waiter an absurdly high tip. I partied alone and plotted my future until 6:00 in the morning. A couple of hours later, on precious few hours of sleep, I walked into the conference room and knocked it out of the park.

The reviews participants left were some of the best I received in my short consulting career. They said they liked my energy and enthusiasm. Some said it was one of the best presentations they had ever seen.

bipolar-symptoms-400x400Later that day, I drove three hours to another city for another gig and did it all over again. I remember being amazed I wasn’t tired after that presentation, which also got good reviews.

Another time I was alone in a big city with no real work obligations. I stayed up most of three days, meeting strangers with ease, buying rounds for people I didn’t know and making repeated trips to the ATM so I could keep gambling, which isn’t something I even know how to do.

That episode ended with a spectacular crash. I was reduced to sobbing on the sofa, calling my wife and confessing what I’d been doing. I so quickly descended into depression and panic, we had to call a friend staying at a different hotel to come and get me. The next day, I made the long drive home, devastated by depression and anxiety.

Continue reading

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Wicked antidepressant withdrawals bitter pill to swallow

By Jack Smith

So this is what the hiccup tastes like. The doctors warned me it would come.

Hiccups, setbacks and even relapse can all be part of mental health recovery, especially when you start some drugs and stop others.

I just didn’t know the hiccup would taste so bitter, hit so hard and cause so much angst.

Google “Effexor withdrawal” and you’ll see horror stories from patients on message boards and blogs.

On the more official websites, you’ll see the Who’s Who of side effects: Upset stomach. (More like stomach bug from hell). Dizziness. Brain shakes (this is real and hard to explain, except that it feels like your brain is rattling around in your noggin).

Migraines (four in five days). Nervousness. Fatigue. Loss of coordination (my wife revoked my driving privileges on a weekend getaway). Vomiting (does puking in your mouth count?). Tremor (good thing I’m not a brain surgeon or we’d be screwed). And an itch that feels like ants crawling under your skin.  Continue reading

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Weight gain frustrating side effect in battle with depression

By Jack Smith

Topics at this blog tend to be kind of heavy, so I thought I might lighten things up today. Only I can’t.

I’m teetering on a new personal record— but not the kind you want plastered on the wall at the gym.

I recently tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds for the first time ever. I weighed 206 to be exact. That’s roughly 46 pounds heavier than I was in 2011 and 50 pounds heavier than college.

Both times, doctors told me the meds I was taking were partly to blame. The drugs I was taken in 2011 took away my appetite to the point I could only eat a few bites at meal time. The fist full of pills I’m currently taking, however have caused my appetite to go off the charts.

unexplained weight gainI have to take some responsibility here. I’m the one who ate like a bird or inhaled food like a pig, but the meds didn’t help and probably hurt.

I don’t recall exactly what meds I was taking in 2011 when I all but quit eating.  I think I was on Abilify and Remeron, among other drugs.

I just remember it was an incredibly difficult time for depression and anxiety.  I had no appetite. None at all. I was so skinny my wife wondered if I had an eating disorder and several people thought I had cancer. One friend later told me she thought I was “manorexic.”  Continue reading

If you enjoyed this post, share it!

Telling our secrets, sharing our pain takes away their power


By Jack Smith

I’m reminded of something my late father once said to me after I got busted for a night of drinking. I probably wasn’t even 21.

Trying to wrap his naive mind around what we’d done, he asked how many drinks I’d had.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, preparing to lie. “Three or four?”

“Four beers!” he shot back excitedly. “What kind of idiot would drink four beers in one night!”

If he only knew….

Since I’m still working through self-esteem issues and this novel idea of self-compassion, I often question why I do certain things. Well, most things.

Take writing this blog and sharing my darkest secrets. Talking about your problems isn’t something his generation understands.  I can almost hear the wise voice of my father asking, “do you really want to do that?”

Most of the time, I do. The reason I do it is simple. I write to help me cope and give others hope.  Continue reading

If you enjoyed this post, share it!